Room by Emma Donoghue

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Room by Emma Donoghue

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Narrated in the voice of five year old Jack, this is a haunting, innovative and brave story that will stay with you long after the final page. A sad situation, lightly and movingly told.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330519014

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

It's the morning of Jack's fifth birthday, but Jack is no ordinary boy. He and his Ma have been imprisoned by the character known only as 'Old Nick' in a single room for all Jack's life. True he has a television, but his mother has convinced him that those people are not real. The room is all Jack has ever known - and in it he has developed his own attachment to things like Bed, Rug, Table, Skylight and Wardrobe where he sleeps. The first victim of incarceration, it seems, is the definite article.

'Room' is an exceptional piece of writing, both for it's imagination but mostly for the bravery shown in writing the whole story from the point of view of Jack. Writing in the voice of a five year old is a terribly difficult trick to carry off, but Emma Donoghue does it with great success avoiding too much sentimentality yet retaining the innocence of the voice. It's not a particularly long book - you could probably get through it in one session - and that's probably as well because if it were any longer the voice might get wearing, but the story will stay with you far longer.

There is a plot line to the book, although I would hate to give too much away. Suffice to say that in the first half, Jack and his Ma are entirely within their world in the Room, asking 'Old Nick' for food and 'Sundaytreat' and doing things that the reader can quickly guess why his mother has him doing them, but of course Jack cannot. The book hinges on the mother's decision that at five years old, something has to change about their situation and Jack is old enough to perhaps learn the truth, or at least some of it. But this hurts Jack's head just to think about.

All I will say is that the situation changes somewhat in the second half of the book - as indeed it had to - and if I were to be very critical, I would have to say that I enjoyed the second half slightly less than the first, but the story is beautifully told and, with the recent revelations of similar situations in Austria happening in real life, staggeringly credible. When I knew the subject matter I was slightly afraid that it would be one of those books that is so depressing due to the situation, but by narrating it in Jack's innocent voice, Emma Donoghue manages to avoid this trap and retains enough humour to make the story claustrophobic and sad, while the book itself is neither of those things.

It's a brave, beautiful and haunting book but told in as upbeat manner as it's possible to do and the author's ability to get inside the mind of a five year old in an almost impossible to imagine situation is amazing. It's an unusual book, but one that for many people I suspect will be one of their favourite books of, at least, the year.

Our thanks to the good folk at Picador for sending this book into our Room for review.

'Room' is on the Man Booker long list for 2010 and reminded me a little of the former Booker winning We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Another book that you might enjoy if you liked this is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak while if you are getting an unhealthy interest in books set in a single room, then The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi is equally moving and highly recommended. You might enjoy The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl but we had our reservations.

Booklists.jpg Room by Emma Donoghue is in the Man Booker Prize 2010.

Booklists.jpg Room by Emma Donoghue is in the Orange Prize 2011.

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Buy Room by Emma Donoghue at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Room by Emma Donoghue at


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Maureen Julian said:

I read Room as one of the World Book Night selection and thought it was great. Ma was so imaginative whilst keeping her little boy occupied. I really loved this book and would love to see the film.

Margaret Wilde said:

I would not like to take away from you the joy of discovering this books' many treasures for yourself. Let me tell you that it is extremely difficult for me to read a book these days, as I am in constant pain and find it difficult to concentrate, so for me to lose myself in Room and read it in a mere couple of days, entranced by that bright five-year-old child and by the small, wonderful world his inventive, courageous mother created for him, says much for the imaginative pen of Emma Donoghue. If you read this beautifully written book, I think you will find yourself in tears much of the time, but that they are the tears that lift the heart.

Margaret Wilde